Fellowship is a key component at any Annual Conference but with the theme of “Never Alone” woven throughout the 2011 Annual Conference Session, it seemed even more essential this year.
“Our theme of ‘Never Alone’ points to another essential dimension of being a disciple of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop James King. “We are made for fellowship with God and one another.”
Even the visual stage reminded conference members of the importance of fellowship. “The stage set was reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th century mural painting ‘The Last Supper,’ the most reproduced religious painting of all time,” said Dr. Jane Kimbrel, chair of the conference worship committee.
“The scene depicted a moment in the final days of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of John 13:21.”
Throughout Conference worship, Jesus and the disciples portrayed Jesus’ last days on earth. “These sacramental acts that occurred between Jesus and his followers were a constant reminder that we are “Never Alone,” said Dr. Kimbrel.
Tuesday night of conference was a “free” evening. The Tifton Local Arrangements Committee hosted a night at the Agrirama, where people enjoyed a festive evening of history, food, music, train rides, and visiting with friends of all ages. Others attended banquets or special events. Several groups of clergy colleagues planned gatherings for fellowship. Many others had a free evening to visit with friends or rest.
"Annual Conference has long been a time of catching up with friends and fellow pastors, current and past,” said Dr. John Stephens, pastor of Wesley UMC at Frederica. “But I have also found it inspiring to spend time with new pastors to hear their hopeful view of the future of our church even in difficult times. I return home blessed and hopeful for our church."
Continuing with the fellowship theme, on Wednesday morning clergy and laity gathered together for a 5K run/walk around the ABAC campus while others did aerobic exercise and body prayer/yoga at the conference center. Others sat together in workshops focused on the Sabbath and healthy eating or communed with God in a Healing Prayer Walk. All of this was part of “A Healthier Me: Mind, Body & Soul,” an intentional time that encouraged people to take care of themselves and to live a healthier lifestyle.
A participant in the 5K race with his good buddy, Rev. Ken Myers, Rev. Mike Davis, pastor of Pinson Memorial UMC in Sylvester, said the theme of “Never Alone” was especially meaningful to him this year following the death of his wife, Debi, this spring.
"I had overwhelming pangs of a sort of homesick feeling knowing that she wasn't there this time. All of that dissipated the moment I walked in,” said Rev. Davis. “So many folks, many who hardly know me, came up to me with good words, with hugs, and with special memories - I felt like I was at home with family.
“Throughout the conference, people were constantly flooding me with love, laughter, and concern. I told several folks that since Debi's sickness and death, I have felt like I was living in the Kingdom the way God meant it. Annual Conference was just another reminder for me of what the Kingdom should be,” said Rev. Davis.
Whether eating dinner together at the Methodist Home BBQ, running a 5K with a buddy, taking a train ride with a friend or spending time in conversation in the lobby of a hotel, Bishop King’s opening statement proved true, “In the kingdom of God we are never alone.”